Valentine’s Day and Love

Years ago, my brother and I were talking about somebody and whether I liked that person or not. I said to my brother, “I like people who like me.” He just laughed. Over the years, whenever this came up, he would remind me: “Oh yeah, Brother, I remember:  You like people who like you.”

I think most of us like people who like us. I know that’s how it works with love. It’s easy to love people who love you back. After all, you’re simply returning what you’re getting from them.

Positive vs. Negative Energy

But life is not that simple. We are called to do more. The Bible says it’s not enough to like and love only those who feel the same way about you. “Love your neighbor as yourself” is the challenge God puts forth. And sometimes it is a challenge! That means you must love all the neighbors, not just the one across the street whom you’ve come to fondly call “Aunt C.J.” You even have to love the ones you associate with the idea that “Good fences make good neighbors.”

I bet you know at least one person who brings out negative feelings in you. At work, it could be a boss, a co-worker, a vendor, a customer, etc. Outside the office, it could be a family member, a supper club couple, a church member, a neighbor, etc. Often, as soon as these people say something—or just walk into the room—you feel angry, defensive, resentful or even hurt. Maybe you feel a toxic combination of all these emotions!  And likely, the more you interact with them, the more negative thoughts you have. It’s a bad cycle that needs to be broken.

Of course, there always will be people who bring out the worst in us. They push our buttons, and we react badly. But negative energy breeds negative energy.

Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent.” That’s smart and important. In the end, it’s not what someone else does or says that matters. What matters is how you react to what they do or say. And that’s entirely up to you. You control that part. That’s the key. You can’t prevent others from doing or saying negative things, but you absolutely can control the most important part—your reaction to what they do or say.

Great (and Not-So-Great) Expectations

Tom Magliozzi, who with his brother, Ray, hosted the popular NPR show Car Talk, once said, “Happiness equals reality minus expectations.” I’m going to tweak that a bit and say that one way to manage your reaction to something or someone negative is to match your expectations to reality. If you interact with someone who pushes your buttons, expect it. Learn to manage your reaction with the attitude of, “Well, that’s just them.” And then move on.

So, as we celebrate Valentine’s Day, a holiday associated with love (and romance, of course), I challenge you to think about love in a larger, more all-encompassing way. I challenge you to not just love those who love and cherish you in return. Consider those people who are harder to love, and try to love them, too. Do this for yourself.

I’ve come to learn that forgiving someone frees me to live my own life in a happier, certainly less burdensome, way. One of my favorite sayings is, “Don’t let someone live rent-free in your mind unless they are a good tenant.”

This Valentine’s Day, work on loving all those in your life—especially the unlovable. (And yes, it might very well be work, but you can do it!) Know this:  When you replace negative emotions with positive ones, you’ll do what you do better.